Tales from the exotic east

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel gets away with it again – not least with the words second best in the title. When I read the novel that the first film was originally based on (These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach), it was a copy I picked up purely by accident from the library. It was set in Bangalore and I remember being amused at all the familiar landmarks mentioned – Richmond Road, MG Road etc. As always, things change in adapting a novel for the big screen. Boring Bangalore is replaced with a Jaipur, resplendent with colour and elephants aplenty. A bunch of English pensioners decide to go to this ramshackle hotel far away from expensive Britain that is named the Best Exotic Marigold, to spend their twilight years and the fact that these retirees are Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggi Smith, Bill Nighy and now Richard Gere just makes it irresistibly entertaining. I drooled over the clothes as I laughed along to a modern day Fawlty Towers – the chanderi sari in black with a thick zari border, the benares silks, the linen and block printed kurtas…it’s a good thing I don’t live in India anymore. I’d be a regular at Shopaholics Anonymous.

From one British representation of a former colony/the Jewel of the Raj, to the poetry of Indian poet, Kamala Das that a friend shared with me last week.

The Maggots

At sunset, on the river bank, Krishna
Loved her for the last time and left…
That night in her husband’s arms, Radha felt
So dead that he asked, What is wrong,
Do you mind my kisses, love? And she said,
No, not at all, but thought, What is
It to the corpse if the maggots nip?

The all-consuming love for Krishna by his female devotees is legendary in Hindu mythology. Mirabhai who sang bhajans immersed in her love for Krishna famously neglected her husband who was a king. Andal, the teenage 6th century poet became one with her Lord after expressing her deepest fantasies about him in verse. But this 20th century poem gets to the heart of the matter. No one compares to Krishna’s prowess. Poor Radha – abandoned and having to live with all the memories that crowd her brain.

Surrendering to the higher force, just as a lover would is a theme that recurs in Sufi music a lot. The quwwali is a popular staple in many a Bollywood saga. The film Veer-Zaara is a good example. http://www.bollynook.com/en/lyrics/7821/aaya-tere-dar-par/ In an emotionally charged scene Shahrukh Khan who plays an Indian ex-Air Force pilot goes to Pakistan on the eve of Preity Zinta’s wedding to another man, to claim her as his true love. He follows her to the dargah, where this quwwali is being performed at the shrine. It easily substitutes as a romantic song too.

So a slapstick, stinging and sublime dose of culture this week.

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